by Anthonia Akitunde
First, ask yourself: “How is this cosmically linking up to the greater good?”
Today women are feeling more comfortable than ever in saying—and getting—what they want, how they want it. It may explain the rise in the number of American women seeking doula services, as today’s moms-to-be become more intentional about their pregnancies.
It’s the reason why Erica Chidi Cohen founded The Mama Circle. The Los Angeles-based company provides doula and maternal health services to pregnant moms and parents who are looking for a thoroughly modern take on an old-school tradition.
“In the past, women were all supported through their pregnancy and their labor,” Chidi Cohen says. “It was a communal effort, and that’s definitely fallen off. I just knew that more and more women were wanting to have a very different pregnancy experience, wanted to transition into motherhood more consciously—in a way that didn’t feel too woo woo or out there, but still had that spirituality and connectedness that they’re looking for.”
Since it opened in 2014, The Mama Circle has become a well-loved destination for expecting families looking for resources, education, and community. (Its Mama Mornings have become an especially popular meetup for moms and babies.)
For Chidi Cohen, The Mama Circle has been a lifetime in the making—and she’s taking steps to ensure its success grows. The doula, chef, and lactation consultant tells us how she’s redefining the doula experience for her clients and says exactly what we all need to hear about networking for business growth.
What made you want to become a doula?
It’s hard for me to say I woke up knowing this is what I wanted to do, but [I had] a very clear unfettered desire to guide women. What I really liked about doula work is the type of social support that I really felt was missing from the medical system.
I recently learned that my grandmother basically did the work that I do [now] many years ago in our village. She would deliver babies, help with breastfeeding, and make herbs for jaundice. As I grew up, my parents always called me “nne” which in Igbo means grandmother or mother. It’s interesting that in my early 20s I kind of gravitated toward the work of my grandmother.
I don’t have children, but my ability to support women around pregnancy has always been an innate skill. It feels like definitely ancestry at work, but then my background is in the arts and PR, so my ability to connect people, support people, and help them articulate their own needs really plugged in well to pregnancy and wellness.
Do you ever feel pushback from people on your abilities because you’re not a mom?
Maybe a tiny bit, but nothing that was prohibitive to me. I feel like not having children is so [beneficial] to my work because I’m not coming from the position of “I did it this way.” I come from a more scientific point of view where I’m looking at all the hundreds of women I’ve worked with, which for a lot of women helps them feel not judged, like we’re working together to find a common solution that’s not ego-motivated.
I feel like doulas who are older bring in a lot of their own personal experience. I’m sure once I cross that threshold, I will understand that more. But I would always like to work from a space of, “You know what’s best for you, I’m a conduit.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to launch a business in this space?
Really know what it is that you’re offering. Be very clear about it, because wellness can encompass so many things. It’s really nice to want to offer a myriad of services, but people really respond well when you know what you’re doing so they know how to access you.
I think it’s always better to do a few things really, really well, and then once that’s established you can layer, versus doing a lot of things with varying levels of efficacy. Then you’re confused, your client is confused, and then you’re feeling like there’s not growth happening. If everything you’re doing is feeding back into your business, then you’re really cooking with gas.
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